Skip to main content

Full text of "Darwinism in Forestry"

See other formats


Early Journal Content on JSTOR, Free to Anyone in the World 

This article is one of nearly 500,000 scholarly works digitized and made freely available to everyone in 
the world by JSTOR. 

Known as the Early Journal Content, this set of works include research articles, news, letters, and other 
writings published in more than 200 of the oldest leading academic journals. The works date from the 
mid-seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries. 

We encourage people to read and share the Early Journal Content openly and to tell others that this 
resource exists. People may post this content online or redistribute in any way for non-commercial 

Read more about Early Journal Content at 
journal-content . 

JSTOR is a digital library of academic journals, books, and primary source objects. JSTOR helps people 
discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content through a powerful research and teaching 
platform, and preserves this content for future generations. JSTOR is part of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit 
organization that also includes Ithaka S+R and Portico. For more information about JSTOR, please 



U. S. Forest Service 

The centennial anniversary of the birth of Charles 
Darwin was the occasion for many interesting reviews of 
what Darwinism has clone for the biological sciences. In 
all these reviews, however, scarcely any reference is made 
to forestry. Yet historically and inherently there is a 
most remarkable and unique connection between Darwin- 
ism and forestry. 

On April 10, 1860, soon after the appearance of the first 
edition of the "Origin of Species," Darwin wrote to his 
friend C. Lyell : 

Now for a curious thing' about my book, and then I have done. In 
last Saturday's Gardeners' Chronicle, a Mr. Patrick Matthew publishes 
a long extract from his work on " Naval Timber and Arboriculture," 
published in 1S31, in which he briefly but completely anticipates the 
theory of Natural Selection. I have ordered the book, as some few 
passag-es are rather obscure, but it is certainly, I think, a complete but 
not developed anticipation ! One may be excused in not having dis- 
covered the fact in a work on Naval Timber. 1 

And three days later, on April 13, 1860, he wrote to J. 
D. Hooker. 3 

My dear Hooker — Questions of priority so often lead to odious 
quarrels, that I should esteem it a great favor if yon would read the 
enclosed. If yon think it proper that I should send it (and of this 
there can hardly be any question), and if you think it full and ample 
enough, please alter the date to the day on which you post it, and let- 
that be soon. The case in the Gardeners' Chronicle seems a little 
stronger than in Mr. Matthew's book, for the passages are therein 
scattered in three places; but it would be mere hair-splitting to notice 
that. If you object to my letter, please return it; but I do not expect 
that you will, but I thought that you would not object to run your eye 
over it. 

'"The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin," by F. Darwin, 1898, New 
York, Appleton & Co., p. 95. 
■ll'ul., pp. 95 and 96. 



The statement to which Darwin referred in his letter 
to Hooker appeared in the Gardeners' Chronicle on April 
21, 1860 (page 362) , and is this : 

I have been much interested by Mr. Patrick Matthew's communica- 
tion in the number of your paper dated April 7th. I freely acknowl- 
edge that Mr. Matthew has anticipated by many years the explanation 
which I have offered of the origin of species, under the name of natural 
selection. I think that no one will feel surprised that neither I, nor 
apparently any other naturalist, had heard of Mr. Matthew's views, 
considering how briefly they are given, and that they appeared in the 
appendix to a work on Naval Timber and Arboriculture. I can do no 
more than offer my apologies to Mr. Matthew for my entire ignorance 
of this publication. If another edition of my work is called for, I will 
insert to the foregoing effect. 3 

In the Historical Sketch 4 which he added to the later 
editions of his book Darwin gives Matthew credit for the 
Nature's law of selection in the following words: 

In 1831 Mr. Patrick Matthew published his work on " Naval Timber 
and Arboriculture," in which he gives precisely the same view on the 
origin of species as that (presently to be alluded to) propounded by 
Mr. Wallace and myself in the Linnean Journal, and as that enlarged 
in the present volume. Unfortunately, the view was given by Mr. 
Matthew very briefly in scattered passages in an Appendix to a work 
on a different subject, so that it remained unnoticed until Mr. Matthew 
himself drew attention to it in the Gardeners' Chronicle, on April 7th, 
1860. The differences of Mr. Matthew's view from mine are not of 
much importance: he seems to consider that the world was nearly 
depopulated at successive periods, and then re-stocked ; and he gives as 
an alternative, that new forms may be generated " without the presence 
of any mould or germ of former aggregates." I am not sure that I 
understand some passages; but it seems that he attributes much in- 
fluence to the direct action of the conditions of life. He clearly saw, 
however, the full force of the 'principle of natural selection. 3 

In a letter written by Darwin to J. L. A. de Quatref ages 
on April 25, 1861, he referred to Patrick Matthew's ex- 
planation in a postscript as follows : 

I have lately read M. Naudin's paper, but it does not seem to me to 
anticipate me, as he does not show how selection could be applied under 

3 Ibid. 

""The Origin of Species," 1878, p. xvi— Historical Sketch. 

5 Ibid. 


nature ; but an obscure writer on forest trees, in 1830, in Scotland, most 
expressly and clearly anticipated my views — though he put the case so 
briefly that no single person ever noticed the scattered passages in his 

Grant Allen in his biography of Darwin (1888) calls 
Patrick Matthew the unconscious author of the principle 
of natural selection which he applied in his book on naval 
timber to the entire Nature. 

Here then is a most interesting fact which seems to me 
of deep significance to foresters. The first Darwinian, 
who twenty-nine years before Darwin formulated the law 
of natural selection, was a forester. I shall not attempt 
here to compare Darwin's and Matthew's views on nat- 
ural selection. Matthew's book, the full title of which is 
"Naval Timber and Arboriculture, With Critical Notes 
on Authors Who Have Eecently Treated the Subject of 
Planting," is accessible in the Congressional Library. 
The chapter on Nature's Law of Selection I hope can be 
reprinted in the next issue of the Proceedings of the So- 
ciety of American Foresters, so that every one will be 
able to draw the comparison for himself. 

In bringing together this evidence I am very far indeed 
from any desire to detract in the least from the great 
service which Darwin rendered to science. It was Dar- 
win who first gave flesh and blood to the idea of natural 
selection. It was his wonderful interpretation of all bio- 
logical facts in the light of natural selection that made the 
latter the universal law applicable to the entire organic 
world. Before this accomplishment the claims of all 
others must sink into obscurity. 

My purpose in assembling these records is twofold: 
First, to restore the memory of one who ploughed the 
same fields as we do now, the name of a forester whose 
idea, although it did not perish, slumbered almost un- 
known for nearly thirty years until another and bigger 
man brought it to life and general recognition; and sec- 
ond, to offer an explanation of the reason why a forester 
above all others should be the one to observe and formu- 


late the law of the struggle for existence as the basis for 
natural selection and the origin of new species. 

My first purpose, I hope, has been accomplished by 
quoting extracts from Darwin's correspondence. The 
second still remains. 

There is nothing accidental, in my opinion, in the fact 
that a forester should be the first to observe the struggle 
for existence and its bearing upon the development of the 
new varieties, because there is no other plant society in 
the world which presents a more striking example of the 
struggle for existence and of natural selection than the 
forest. Nowhere else, also, can the law of this process be 
more fully studied. 

The regular decrease in the number of trees on a given 
area with increase in age forms one of the earliest obser- 
vations of the foresters, who, at a time antedating Dar- 
win, properly gave this process the name of the struggle 
for existence, the struggle for the necessary growing 
space. The foresters have discovered the laws governing 
this process, a process in which almost 95 per cent, of all 
trees that start life in the stand perish, and in the form 
of yield tables have expressed it quantitatively, have 
measured and weighed it. They have shown how this 
struggle for existence varies with the species, climate, 
drainage and soil conditions, and age of the stand ; that it 
is more intense, and consequently the differentiation into 
dominant and suppressed classes occurs earlier with 
light-needing species than with shade-enduring ones. In 
a climate most suitable to the species and on favorable 
situations this struggle again results in more rapid dif- 
ferentiation into dominant and suppressed trees than 
when the species grow outside of their optimum range 
and on poor soils. These are elementary and fundamen- 
tal facts known to foresters for many years. 

The foresters have not only observed these facts, but 
they have also furnished an explanation for them. The 
more favorable the conditions of growth, the greater is 
the development of the individual trees; the earlier, 


therefore, begins the struggle for space and the differen- 
tiation into dominant and suppressed, with the subse- 
quent dying out of the latter. They have followed this 
process throughout the entire life of the stand, have es- 
tablished its various degrees of severity, and have dis- 
covered its culmination during the period of the most 
rapid growth in height. This struggle for space and 
light is the basis of the forester's operations, as only by 
utilizing and controlling it is he capable of producing 
wood of high technical qualities, tall cylindrical boles, 
free of branches, and wood with uniform annual rings 
possessing great elasticity. Without this struggle there 
is no forest, there is no production of valuable timber, 
save firewood. 

The struggle for existence in a forest stand is not con- 
fined to individual members of the same age or the same 
story, but the forest, as a whole, battles for its existence 
against the adjoining meadow, swamp or shrub vegeta- 
tion ; the old trees against the young growth that comes 
up under them ; groups of trees of different species or of 
different ages against each other. In this struggle the 
forest accomplishes what no other vegetation does ; 
namely, it actually changes the climate over the area oc- 
cupied by it, and makes it inhospitable for its enemies. 
The forest creates its own interior environment to which 
its own members are completely adapted, but in which 
other species find either too much or too little light, the 
humus too scant or too deep, or too acid, the temperature 
too high or too low. Whatever it may be, the forest's 
competitors are eliminated through the changed environ- 
ment. To change this environment, however, there must 
be a close stand, there must be present the struggle for 
existence among the individual members of the stand. 
Through interior struggle among its own members the 
stand secures resistance against invasion by other vege- 
tation. How manifoldly broad and deep, then, is the 
struggle for existence in the forest. 

When we come now to natural selection nowhere else is 


it expressed in such fullness and so strikingly as in the 
forest. The forest is a natural breeding place in which 
constantly only the trees best adapted to the climate and 
the situation are allowed to remain. In the forest only 
the conquerors in the struggle for existence are the ones 
which produce seed in abundance. During a seed year 
the dominant and co-dominant trees produce seed in large 
quantities ; the intermediate trees, which may properly 
be called the candidates for suppression, participate but 
little, and then only in exceptionally good seed years, 
while the oppressed and suppressed do not bear seed at 
all. With what rigidity, then, must the natural selection 
go on in a forest, if we consider first what a small per- 
centage of trees in a stand of the same generation come to 
be conquerors in the struggle for existence; second, the 
great age reached by trees ; third, the numerous genera- 
tions of trees that have succeeded each other in the same 
forest ; and fourth, the relatively limited capacity of tree 
seeds for dissemination. With each generation the for- 
est trees must become more and more delicately adjusted 
and adapted to the given conditions of growth. The new 
generation inevitably arises from seed sown by the best 
developed trees, from those which have withstood the long 
and intense battle not only against Nature alone, but 
against Nature in the presence of competitors. Of this 
possibly only 1 per cent, or less will reach maturity and 
be able to continue the species. No wonder, therefore, 
that in spite of search for new species all over the world 
so few forest trees have been successfully introduced into 
new countries and so little progress has been made with 
the artificial improvement of them. So perfect is the nat- 
ural selection in the forest, so fine is the adjustment be- 
tween the environment and the forest trees, that it is al- 
most impossible for man to approach it. I do not mean 
the introduction of trees for park purposes or breeding 
new varieties for some other purpose than timber; I have 
in mind only the establishment of natural forests and the 
production of timber. 


The natural selection forms also the basis of the for- 
ester's operation in selecting trees for seeding purposes, 
in making regeneration cuttings, in collecting seed for re- 
forestation and so on. 

These few facts are enough to show with what fullness 
and force the principles advanced by Darwin are ex- 
pressed in the forest. If agriculture furnished Darwin 
with many examples of artificial selection upon which he 
built by analogy his principle of natural selection, the 
forest, of all plant formations, furnishes the most strik- 
ing examples and proof of the latter. As a matter of fact, 
forestry as an art is nothing else but the controlling and 
regulating of the struggle for existence for the practical 
ends of man; forestry as a science is nothing else but the 
study of the laws tvhich govern the struggle for existence. 

Is there anything strange, therefore, that it was a for- 
ester who first formulated the principles of natural se- 
lection? Is there anything strange, also, in the fact that 
it was also foresters who have laid the foundation for 
what has come to be known as ecology, which is the log- 
ical development of Darwinism? Because of the fact 
that the forest is the highest expression of plant life, the 
foresters occupy the strategic position from which they 
command vistas accessible only with difficulty to other 
naturalists. In this lies the strength of forestry, its pe- 
culiar beauty, and the debt which science owes to it.